How to be lucky

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com and author of Delivering Happiness, stopped by New Orleans last month to give a talk about his work. I’ve never bought anything from Zappos, but I’ve come to love the way they do business. (Watch these interviews with Hsieh on Big Think if you’re unfamiliar.)

During his talk, Hsieh talked a lot about company culture. They hire and fire people at Zappos according to their core values. To hire the right people in the first place, Zappos has an extensive interview and training process. Hsieh made special mention of one interview question they ask applicants: On a scale of one to ten, how lucky do you usually consider yourself to be?

That question was inspired by some research done on luck by Richard Wiseman, one experiment in particular:

Take the case of chance opportunities. Lucky people consistently encounter such opportunities, whereas unlucky people do not. I carried out a simple experiment to discover whether this was due to differences in their ability to spot such opportunities.

I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

For fun, I placed a second large message halfway through the newspaper: “Stop counting. Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250.” Again, the unlucky people missed the opportunity because they were still too busy looking for photographs.

The lesson here is that “lucky” people are usually more relaxed and open to new opportunities. They’re not attached to a specific outcome. On the other hand, according to Wiseman, “unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner and so miss opportunities to make good friends.”

Lucky me

I consider myself to be a lucky guy. Good things happen to me all the time, and I can often turn a bad experience into something positive. Wiseman’s findings make perfect sense to me, since I rarely consider luck to be an accident.

I like the definition of luck as the intersection of preparation and opportunity.

With that, you have significant say in how lucky you are, because you can work to stay prepared and you can seek out opportunities. You have a lot of control over those things, and therefore a lot of control over how lucky you are.

10 ways to increase your luck

Here are several things you can do to become one lucky SOB. Let me know what I’m missing in the comments.

  1. Ask for what you want. You have to broadcast your desires. If more people know what you want, there’s a better chance that someone will step forward and help you get it. You may have to tweak what you’re asking, or change who you’re asking, but you must keep asking. No ask, no get.
  2. Look at every no as a not yet. I used to give up after someone told me no, but I’ve found that no is usually just the default answer; rarely does it mean never. You’re just being tested to see how much you really want it.
  3. Give generously of yourself. Make an effort with everyone you meet. Value them, take interest in their story. Don’t ever underestimate the goodwill you can build in just five minutes with a stranger. Put out love, give others valuable gifts and genuine compliments, leave people better than you found them. Make them feel lucky. Your kindness will come back to you in unexpected ways.
  4. Be playful. Treat life as a game. Explore the rules, test your assumptions. Who says you can’t live rent free? Why can’t you ask that person out? (At the same time, know when to get serious and ask the hard questions. Playful doesn’t mean irresponsible.)
  5. Know that you can do anything you put your mind to. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, the question isn’t who’s going to let you; it’s who’s going to stop you?
  6. Be flexible. Life won’t always go according to plan. That’s okay. Roll with the punches and make the most of unexpected situations. You can get pissed off or you can get creative and enjoy yourself regardless. You have the power to choose. Use it.
  7. Work hard. Face your fears. Don’t shy away from discomfort. Staying prepared for those opportunities will require hard work and commitment. Consistently deliver high levels of value and know that you’ve earned all the good that comes your way. Working hard helps you develop the mindset that you deserve to be lucky. That’s when you start seeing more opportunities.
  8. Have lucky friends. Surround yourself with people who love living and like to make others happy. You can attract folks like that by being one of them. When you get together and let your powers combine, you’ll be on some lucky Captain Planet type ish.
  9. Be grateful. You already have everything you need. Take some time every day to pause and reflect on how fantastic your life is. Realize that you have it better than about 80% of the world, at least in terms of opportunity.
  10. Believe that you’re already lucky. This is most important. Expect an abundance. Everything you could ever want or need is already here. That extra money you want to earn, that perfect partner you’re looking for… all of it exists already. You just need to resonate with it, get on the same frequency, become the type of person who attracts those things.
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12 Comments

  1. Pingback: Making your own luck | Explore. Dream. Discover.

  2. Yes! I absolutely consider myself to be lucky; sometimes I almost feel guilty at how easily things seem to fall into my lap. But looking at it another way, I think it’s because I’m easygoing and relaxed… if something doesn’t pan out the way I want it to, I can usually still look back and see that things *had* to happen that way in order for *insert whatever here* to happen. And it’s almost always a good thing in the long run. Hooray!

  3. I’m not sure if I believe in luck per se. To me its all about the paradigm that forms your perception of luck. I mean the exact same thing can happen to 2 different people and they could view it in completely different ways. I’ve often had accidents at work where I’ve cut myself or whatever and thought “Shit that was unlucky” But then I stop and think about it and realise that I could have cut my hand off and I think “Actually that was very lucky”. The reality of what happened didn’t change, just my opinion of it.

    That being said, most of the time I do feel pretty lucky, but it is a subjective emotion, probably based on the fact that I know there are other people in alot worse situations than me, in the same way that there are other people in perceptively better situations than me.

    1. Good points, Flor. I believe such an attitude leads to more good things happening, because you’re more attuned to possibilities and opportunities. Like those lucky folks reading the newspaper. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy in a lot of ways, and a vicious circle for those who believe they are unlucky.

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. Pingback: WTF Is Up With These Links?! | WTF Is Up With My Love Life?!

  5. Folks, my apologies for the late reply. Thank you all for reading and commenting.

    Amy: I agree about Steve Pavlina’s podcast. All of his audio stuff rocks.

  6. I also recommend getting a four-leaf clover tattooed somewhere on your body. But seriously, I agree completely, you need to open yourself up and welcome luck. If you are closed off and thinking that you’re unlucky, you will probably be right – no luck.

  7. Hi Niall,
    That is a very interesting posts – one of your best yet I think. These ideas explain why we (or at least I) seem to be luckier some times rather than others – I’m just more open to it. So our luck is not a static thing and we can learn how to be luckier. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    It also reminds me of Steve Pavlina’s podcast on Using Patterns for Personal Development – worth checking out if you have not listened to it.

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